From 2008-2012, Stanford was 67.19% against-the-spread (ATS), and EACH of those five seasons was profitable for those who blindly bet on the Cardinal. After five lucrative betting seasons, the Stanford money tree finally went barren. In 2013, they were 50% ATS, and there is evidence to suggest that Stanford is unlikely to be undervalued in the near future, as they were for those five glorious years. This article will present some of that evidence as it previews the 2014-2015 Stanford Cardinal college football season.

           
          

Stanford’s Hard, Harbaugh Foundation
Jim Harbaugh took over a one-win Stanford team from 2006 and transformed them into a one-loss Stanford team in 2010. Harbaugh built a foundation that was bigger than one player or one coach- for the time being. Harbaugh’s foundation continued to surprise (i.e. exceed expectations) the year after he left by giving Stanford its best ATS season ever (at least as far as we can tell, going back 30 years) in 2011. We believe that oddsmakers thought that Stanford would struggle without Harbaugh and made the NCAAF beting odds softer. They did not. As we already mentioned, the foundation was stronger than even that one coach. In 2012, Stanford went 9-5 ATS: undervalued (we believe) because the betting market thought the Cardinal would struggle without QB Andrew Luck. They did not. Again, Harbaugh’s foundation was stronger than one person. For 2013, the betting market no longer had a “name” departure to attach to Stanford for lamentation. The expectation was established that Stanford football was a bona fide power. The foundation was still Harbaugh’s, but the team now belonged to David Shaw.

 

Stanford’s David Shaw Against-the-Spread
David Shaw was handed a well-oiled football machine, and by not abusing it, he has gone 65.85% ATS. Last season, however, his Stanford squad went just 7-7 ATS. If you are wondering about how Harbaugh and Shaw were (or are) trending, the following graphs illustrate each coach’s margin of victory against-the-spread:

Stanford's Average ATS Margin of Victory Under Jim Harbaugh   Stanford's Average ATS Margin of Victory Under David Shaw

 

It certainly does not take a statistician to conclude that Harbaugh continued to exceed expectations, while Shaw is headed in the opposite direction.
 

Expectations in College Football Betting
By now, you know that we believe betting lines are driven by expectations. Anything that raises expectations for a team is generally bad for ATS outcomes. In our article outlining preseason predictive principleswe discussed three conditions for a profitable ATS season:

  1. Be unranked in the preseason polls. Stanford has only been ranked in the AP (Associated Press) Top 25 Preseason Poll six times since 1982, and three of those six times were the last three seasons. It appears that 2014 will be the fourth consecutive time that the Cardinal will be ranked in the preseason. In fact, we believe Stanford will be ranked in the preseason top 15. A national ranking is an expression of elevated expectations.
  2. Be unprofitable the prior ATS season. In the world of ‘bet-11-to-win-10,’ profitable is defined as anything above 52.38% ATS. Technically, going 50% ATS in 2013 means that Stanford was unprofitable the prior season, and over the past 12 seasons, 75% of the time that Stanford was unprofitable for a season, they were a profitable College Football betting pick the next.
  3. Increase the straight-up (SU) wins from the prior season. Over the past decade, 85.71% of the time that Stanford increased their SU wins from the prior season, they were profitable. Conversely, 66.67% of the time the Cardinal decreased their SU wins from the prior season, they were unprofitable. Knowing that six of Coach Shaw’s seven SU losses at Stanford were in Away games makes it difficult to imagine his Cardinal improving on 11 SU wins with a 2014 schedule that includes AWAY games at Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon, (archrival) California, and UCLA.

 

Schedule Notes
Utilizing the NCAA’s method of determining strength of schedule, Stanford ranks 42nd. Take a look at their 2014 schedule below:

DATE

OPPONENT

LOCATION (STADIUM)

NOTES (Stanford Under David Shaw)

08/30/14

UC Davis

Stanford, CA

(Stanford Stadium)

Stanford is 1-2 ATS in both season and Home-openers. The Total went Over in two out of the three games. In a game with no betting line, Stanford lost at Home to UC Davis in 2005 (before Shaw and Harbaugh), 20-17. Under Harbaugh (in 2010), the Cardinal failed to cover the 41.5-point spread the last time they played an FCS school (Sacramento State).

09/06/14

USC

Stanford, CA

(Stanford Stadium)

Stanford is 2-1 against the closing spread and 1-2 against the opening spread vs. USC. Those three games (SU) were decided by an average of 4 points. Over the last 10 games in this series, the line direction (from the opening to the closing betting line) has only indicated the correct side once. The line movement on the Total in this series, however, has not indicated the wrong side since before the Harbaugh-Shaw era. Stanford is 3-0 ATS in Pac-12 openers.

09/13/14

Army

Stanford, CA

(Stanford Stadium)

Stanford is 0-3 ATS vs. the service academies over the past decade (with and without Shaw). The last two service academy games (including playing Army last season), Stanford failed to cover the spread by their greatest margin of their respective seasons.

09/27/14

Washington

Seattle, WA

(Husky Stadium)

Stanford is 1-2 ATS vs. UW. The last time at UW (2012) was Stanford’s worst ATS margin of loss of the 2012 season for Away games. Although the Total has gone Over in two of those three games, the Under was the game at Husky Stadium where Stanford was held to a season (tying) low of 13 points. The Cardinal are 1-2 ATS in both road-openers and Pac-12 road-openers (not including neutral site games). Stanford is 2-1 ATS after a bye.

10/04/14

Notre Dame

South Bend, IN

(Notre Dame Stadium)

Stanford is 2-1 ATS vs. ND. The Total has gone Under all three times. The Cardinal are 4-2 ATS in out-of-conference Away games (including Bowl games).

10/10/14

Washington State

Stanford, CA

(Stanford Stadium)

Stanford is 2-1 ATS vs. WSU. That one ATS loss was, however, the last time these two met in Stanford when the Cardinal failed to cover the spread by 18 points. The Total has gone Under in two of their three games.

10/18/14

Arizona State

Tempe, AZ

(Sun Devil Stadium)

Stanford is 2-0 ATS vs. ASU. Both games were last season (first during the regular season at Stanford, and then the Pac-12 Championship at ASU). The first game went Over, while the second game went Under the Total.

10/25/14

Oregon State

Stanford, CA

(Stanford Stadium)

Stanford is 3-0 ATS vs. OSU, however, the average margin of victory ATS in those games was 3 points. The Total went Under in two of those three games, but the one Over was also the one time they played at Stanford.

11/01/14

Oregon

Eugene, OR

(Autzen Stadium)

Stanford is 2-1 ATS vs. UO. In both of those ATS wins, Stanford was a double-digit underdog in the only two games under Shaw that Stanford has been a double-digit dog. The underdog is 3-0 ATS in this series. The Total went Under in two of those three games.

11/15/14

Utah

Stanford, CA

(Stanford Stadium)

Stanford is 0-1 ATS vs. Utah. Last year’s SU and ATS loss to Utah was Stanford’s worst ATS loss to a Pac-12 team in 2013-2014. The Total went Under. The Cardinal are 1-2 ATS in final Home games. Stanford is 2-1 ATS after a bye.

11/22/14

California

Berkeley, CA

(California Memorial Stadium)

Stanford is 2-1 ATS vs. Cal in The Big Game. Last year, Stanford scored their most points ever (63) and beat Cal by the most points ever (50) in the history of this rivalry. Over the past decade, the line direction (from the opening to the closing betting line) has never indicated the correct side when The Big Game was played at Cal. The last two times this game was played at Cal (with and without Shaw), this matchup experienced “reverse line movement.” Both times, that “sharp” side was wrong. Under Shaw, the Total went Over in two of the three games, but the one Under was also the one time Stanford played at Cal.

11/28/14

UCLA

Pasadena, CA

(Rose Bowl)

Stanford is 3-1 ATS vs. UCLA. Stanford was the favorite in all four games. The Total went Over in three of their four games. The Cardinal are 1-2 in their final Pac-12 games (including Pac-12 Championship games), but 2-1 ATS in final regular-season games.

 

Heart Transplant
It could be said that the heart of Stanford’s success has been its offensive line play. David Shaw’s 2014 offensive line features the least amount of collective starting experience in the Pac-12. The last time Shaw dealt with an unseasoned O-line was in 2012 when Stanford allowed the most sacks since Harbaugh’s second year, and they produced the worst rushing yards per carry average since Harbaugh’s first year. That 2012 O-line had 42% more starts than this 2014 iteration! Do not be fooled by 2012’s 12 SU wins; good fortune played a role: In 2012, Stanford won 8 of its 12 games by one touchdown or less. They also had the greatest number of positive turnover-margin games in the Harbaugh-Shaw era. In 2014, Stanford will have an offensive line that has less than 30 collective career starts. Putting that into perspective, over the past two seasons, “Power 5” conference teams that returned less than 30 starts on their offensive line averaged an anemic 3.51 rushing yards per carry, 5.5 SU wins, and a 43.75% ATS winning rate.

 

Lost Soul
If Stanford’s heart was their offensive line, their soul appeared to be (at least embodied by) linebacker Shane Skov. Skov led Stanford in tackles in 2010, 2012, and 2013. In each of those years, Stanford had a top-10 scoring defense versus FBS competition. Skov took a medical redshirt in 2011. What happened to Stanford’s scoring defense that year? They were not in the top 25. For three of the last four seasons, Skov was the emotional and physical leader of that defense, and this 2014 defense will be without him and 45.9% of their tackles from 2013. Add into the mix the fact that Stanford will have a new defensive coordinator- one who previously held that position for exactly one year ... at St. Mary’s- and we have a recipe for a down year for Stanford’s defense.

 

Shaw Me the Money (Betting Trends)

  • When out-rushed, Stanford is just 2-5 ATS.
  • When Stanford averages at least eight yards per play, they are 6-1 ATS.
  • Line movement (from the opening to the closing betting line) indicated the correct side in just one-third of Stanford’s Away games.
  • Reverse Line Movement (RLM): Usually an indicator of where the “sharp” money has gone when it opposes the majority of the public bets, the RLM side has been correct just twice (in nine tries) in games involving Shaw’s Cardinal.
  • Stanford has gotten the minority of the public betting just six times under Coach Shaw. They are 6-0 ATS in those games.
  • The Public has bet the Over in 95.12% of all of Stanford’s games, yet the Total has gone Under in 56.1% of all of Stanford’s games, 70% of their Away games, and 81.25% of all true Away (non-neutral site) games!

 

Preseason Conclusions
The 2015 College Football National Championship will be determined by playing-off four teams chosen by 13 people. For good or ill, this will be the most subjective method of determining the four best teams in college football since before the BCS. Given the extreme subjectivity of the selection process and the fact that we have no data on the results (since this is the first year of the process), we recommend the most conservative approach to your National Championship futures betting. Given the loss of Stanford’s “heart” and “soul,” we recommend against wagering anything on a Stanford National Championship futures bet.

For five of the last six years, Stanford has had profitable ATS seasons. A dangerous combination of established (high) expectations, downward trends under David Shaw, offensive line and defensive concerns leads us to believe that Stanford will not be a profitable betting pick ATS. Historically, Stanford is not used to (SU) winning at this level, and we believe their success will begin to wane as cracks in Harbaugh’s foundation begin to deepen.

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